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How the Supreme Court could improve the DOJ’s Jan. 6 case against Trump

As Donald Trump sat in Manhattan Criminal Court on Tuesday for the second day of jury selection in his hush money trial, Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments in another case that could have significant implications for one of the other criminal prosecutions in the previous one. faces of the president.

The case being considered in Washington DC was brought by Joseph Fischer, a former Pennsylvania police officer who faces up to 20 years in prison for allegedly participating in the mob of Trump supporters who stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, while Congress gathered to confirm Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election.

Specifically, Fischer is appealing a charge stemming from an Enron-era financial law that the Justice Department applied to many of the January 6 defendants, and that special counsel Jac Smith used to indict former President Trump himself.

If the justices, who are expected to rule on the case in June, agree that the DOJ misapplied the law in Fischer’s case, Trump — and hundreds of others allegedly involved in the 6 attacks January – can do the same.

What happened today

At the heart of the case is the Justice Department’s use of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which was passed in 2002 in the wake of the Enron financial scandal. The law criminalizes attempts to obstruct, influence or impede official proceedings. Although Sarbanes-Oxley was initially intended for financial misdeeds, the DOJ says Jan. 6 rioters violated that law when they tried to obstruct Congress’ certification of electoral votes on Jan. 6, which it considers an official proceeding.

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Fischer’s attorney argued in court Tuesday that the DOJ went too far and that the law was intended to stop tampering with physical evidence — not to prevent riots.

“Until the January 6 prosecution, Section 1512 C2 (a subsection of the Act) had never been used to prosecute anything other than tampering with evidence. That was for a reason,” Jeffrey Green said in his opening argument. “The January 6 prosecutions demonstrate that there are a multitude of crimes and misdemeanors that cover the alleged conduct. A Sarbanes-Oxley-based, Enron-driven evidence tampering statute is not one of them.”

Meanwhile, Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, who defended the law on behalf of the government, believed it was being properly applied.

“On January 6, 2021, a violent mob stormed the United States Capitol and disrupted the peaceful transition of power,” Prelogar said. “Many crimes took place that day. But in plain English, the fundamental evil committed by many of the rioters, including petitioner, was a deliberate effort to prevent the joint session of Congress from certifying the results of the election.”

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How could this impact the DOJ case against Trump?

Tuesday’s arguments could have implications far beyond those of a Pennsylvania police officer.

In the case brought by Smith, Trump is charged with two counts of obstruction and conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

If the Supreme Court rules in Fischer’s favor, it means Trump could also try to cast doubt on the charges against him.

But even if Fischer wins, Trump will not be completely in the clear. The DOJ and Smith said in a Supreme Court filing that they will still pursue obstruction charges against the former president.

Moreover, Fischer’s case rests on a different legal argument than Trump’s. The indictment against Trump accuses him of being the ringleader of a scheme in which Republican officials presented a series of fake electors to Congress to claim Trump had won those states. This means that Trump’s case involves allegations of false documents, a narrower definition of Sarbanes-Oxley that actually echoes the argument Fischer’s lawyer is making.

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What impact could this have on the January 6 suspects?

The Supreme Court hearing of the Fischer case is already having an impact on the convicted January 6 rioters who are in prison. Federal judges in D.C. have agreed to release about 10 suspects who are in custody or serving prison sentences. They say they can wait at home because it could take months for the Supreme Court to decide whether the law should have been applied at all.

If the Supreme Court rules in Fischer’s favor, it would require new sentences for those already convicted. For those charged by the DOJ for this one violation, those charges may be reviewed.

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